Now. Here. This.
By Charles Qualls
The pandemic and the strange year we are still living haven’t done anything as overt as yell to us, “Now hear this!” But they are trying to get our attention. Any potential lessons we could learn won’t make the hardship and tragedy, the isolation and dysfunction of the last year somehow good. We’re trying to be sure that we don’t just survive this pandemic … and its smaller cousins that have come with it. But we listen and at least take away from them the insights and lessons we should.
Pastor Kevin Meadows, a friend of mine, tells of having COVID-19 a few weeks back. He said at one point he was trying to figure out if there was going to be a tomorrow.
“Breathing was labored and difficult. I had to come to grips with my own mortality. At one point, I counted seven doctors who had told me, ‘We just don’t know.’ I was thankful for every breath as I finally got better.”
To point out the obvious, the pandemic reminded us just how fragile life is. It showed us how quickly things could change, and how much of life truly is beyond our control. “Man plans and God laughs,” is a saying you may have heard.
This week, our sermon looked at James 4:1, 13-17. If you are familiar with James’ letter in the New Testament, then you know that this book gives us the voice of a pragmatist. His words might be as simple and as straightforward a collection of writings as our Scriptures contain. So when he says something like, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring,” we confess it’s a little jolting. We also know he’s right. Because we don’t know.
My wife and I celebrated our 30-year anniversary this past week. When we first met, we would often go after class to a frozen yogurt shop. There, we talked about what we saw for ourselves up ahead. I had my life and my work all planned out. I realize now that hardly a thing has gone according to the little map I had drawn out in my mind. Life and people, circumstances, choices and God’s leadership all intervened. They all came together until virtually none of it went like we supposed it would.
James reminds us of how fragile life is. He tells us how utterly unpredictable and eventually how uncontrollable so much of life is. Its timing eludes our understanding. God’s work within our lives defies explanation, really, if we’re honest. There is so much mystery as to how and why God does what God does. Beware anyone who’ll tell you differently.
We make so many assumptions, yet some people woke up with the virus and their plans, hopes and dreams stopped right there. But it really shouldn’t take a worldwide spread of a dangerous illness to issue such a reminder, should it? We get into autopilot and live life assuming we have control of time and so much of our circumstances. We become our own little ‘gods,’ thinking we’re at the controls.
James instead prescribes humility in our living. He reminds us that nothing and no one is guaranteed. Again, this is not a pessimistic outlook as much as it is one grounded in truth.
My wife and I love to travel, but I confess I don’t love to ride in a car. Neither one of us do, really. Especially lately with aging parents and then the loss of a couple of them, we’ve made some 10-hour drives several times. When we stop at a welcome center or a rest area, there’s always a big state map up in the glass case. I tend to look for the red arrow, or the red spot, and sometimes it’ll even be labeled “You Are Here.” I look for that because I want to know where we are relative to where we’re going.
That spot on the map is really saying the same thing as James is, and as the pandemic has reminded us. Except they might say it like this: “Now. Here.This.” The humble heart pays more attention to the now, to the here and to the “this” that God has brought us into. We collect the moments we live, and hopefully give thanks for all that is good.
THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Frankin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.